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a bad judgement call, I think

October 26, 2012


I’m a member of the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum).  Have been for years.  I’ve lost track of time, I guess.  Turns out my membership is due for renewal next month.

A day or so ago there was something in my mail from them.  A ‘renewal’ package.  Not surprising.  They want to make sure I do renew.  It’s the right thing for them to be doing.  The fact that they are trying to get me to commit a month early is interesting.  Times are very tough for all not-for-profits these days, so I applaud them for being so proactive.

That’s the good news.

Here’s where I believe the flaw in their thinking is:  What they’ve sent out is an elaborate, full colour, direct mail package.  It’s got flaps cut on the diagonal.  It’s printed on glossy, heavy, stock.  It’s personalized in several places.  It’s closed with a seal, which had to be done by hand.  The reply envelope is postage-paid.

All no-no’s in the not-for-profit world.

First of all, strictly from the perspective of appearances, this gives the wrong impression.  Even if they got a deal, even if it was done for free, it looks too expensive.  When you’re asking people to donate money to your cause (especially in these troubled times), whether you represent a disease, a school, a charitable foundation or a member of the arts community, you have to be very careful how you present yourself.  Looking like you’ve got all the money in the world won’t help your cause.  Nor is it appropriate.

  • It should have been a simple letter, mailed in an envelope.
  • Wherever possible they should use email instead of regular mail.  Much less expensive, quicker, simpler, etc.
  • The reply envelope should never be postage-paid.  Usually there is an outline of where a stamp should go, with a message that says something like “When you use a stamp, it allows us to put your donation to better use”.
  • Hand assembly costs a lot of money.  The seal may look cool, but its use resulted in unnecessary costs.
  • If the costs of producing the mailer were donated, I still wouldn’t have done it, because a potential donor would have every right to think the donation would have been of much better use if it had gone to the Museum, instead of producing the mailer.
  • At worst, though, if the costs were donated, and if the folks at the ROM did decide to accept the offer, then it was imperative to have a line of copy thanking the donor.  At least that way those of us on the receiving end, would know the Museum hadn’t been foolishly extravagant.

But here’s what makes what they’ve done even worse.  A day or two before I got the mailer there was an article in the Globe & Mail about the ROM; and how they are thinking of charging caterers who work in the ROM, a very substantial fee.  This fee would put these caterers on a list of ROM-approved suppliers.  If they don’t agree to pay the fee (double digit thousands), they wouldn’t make the list.

And in case you’re wondering, the fee does not guarantee they’ll get work out of it, in the end.  It would merely put them on a list, for consideration by those individuals who would be thinking of holding an event at the ROM.

The reason stated is because the ROM needs money.  So on the one hand they’re thinking of extracting money out of their caterers, while on the other hand they’re spending money on glossy mailings.  I have to be honest.  It didn’t make me want to renew my membership.

Personally, I think both moves should have been more carefully thought through.  When I read the article it left a bad taste in my mouth.  In some ways it’s like extortion.  Pony up or find yourself off the list.  If I was a caterer, I’d certainly have to think twice.  It’s a lot of money to pay out, with no guarantee of any work coming from it.  Risky in these times.

And as a consumer, it just pissed me off.  It will impact the choice of caterers I have.  And I can’t believe that those costs won’t ultimately be passed along to me.  The cost of catering will, no doubt, go up.

And you already know how I feel about the luxurious mailing piece.

Having said all this, I know just how difficult things are for charities these days.  They are all scrambling.  Government funding has all but dried up.  Consumers have been suffering financially for a long time now; and there’s no let-up in sight.  Donations go under the ‘discretionary spending’ column in our own budgets.  Which, for most of us, is getting smaller every day.

So out of the box thinking, on the part of the ROM, and everyone else in the sector, is definitely required.  They just need to be more strategic about it.  Maybe think twice next time.


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  1. November 3, 2012

    I never came across your write ups here until now. Enjoyed reading this.

    • fransiweinstein #
      November 3, 2012

      Thank you. This is my business blog. Here I talk about what I do for a living. The other blog is me, writing for pleasure.

  2. elizabeth #
    November 3, 2012

    Wonderful article Fransi I’ve long been PO’d at charities who send me these types of begging letters. They have to know the gold-gilt and fancy paper is in the bin five minutes after the envelopes are opened.

    On a side note. You may want to link your name: fransiweinstein to your blog. I can only find you if I go through your Gravatar. Which takes a few more steps. Just a thought 🙂

    • fransiweinstein #
      November 3, 2012

      Thank you. I don’t mind the fundraising letters. I have a problem with them spending a lot of money on them. They really have no choice but to seek donations. The best source is from members and previous donors because there is already an affinity, but there are lists of people who donate to charities, in general, that can be rented; and often not for profits use them looking for new sources of potential donations.

      What they should be doing is, when after a period of time, they see that someone has not responded your name should be taken off the mailing list for a period of time. In the business these individuals are called classic hold-outs.

      Didn’t realize my blogs were hard to find. Thanks. Have a great weekend.

      • elizabeth #
        November 3, 2012

        I don’t mind the fund-raising letters Fransi, it’s the costly additives that tick me off. I always think that money could have been better used.

        I love your ‘hold-outs’ idea. Two of the charities that are the worst for wasting money are Amnesty International and St.Jude’s for children. We get bombarded with thick (filled with reams of stuffing) envelopes whether we give or not. It must cost a fortune and is such a waste. If, as you said, people are already invested why are they wasting all that money? It’s enough to turn me off.

      • fransiweinstein #
        November 3, 2012

        I agree. It is extremely wasteful and so inappropriate. It’s one thing when the organization is small and they are not sophisticated marketers. But Amnesty International and St. Judes should know better. They are foolish because they are ticking people off and it must cost them donations.

  3. November 12, 2012

    Wonderful article my dear friend!

    • fransiweinstein #
      November 12, 2012

      Thank you!

  4. November 12, 2012

    I certainly have the same response to elaborate charitable mailings as you do. But I wonder whether there is research out there that shows that attention grabbing mailings earn enough more to pay the extra expense. (I actually looked, and there do seem to be some journal articles, but unfortunately I don’t have access to them) It could also be something that pays off in the short term (more money in response to the mailer) but comes with a long term cost (alienating people due to the waste).

    • fransiweinstein #
      November 12, 2012

      In my experience it depresses response. That doesn’t mean that’s still the case, all the time. I have some friends who do a lot of work in the not-for-profit sector. I can ask them. But judging from what still comes into my mailbox, it’s not glossy and attention grabbing.

  5. November 16, 2012

    Thank you for looking at my (tiny) blog. I am awed by your knowledge about your field and your writing. Whew.

    • fransiweinstein #
      November 16, 2012

      Thank you so much
      Thank you so much. And thank you for reading my blog. Have a great day!

  6. November 16, 2012

    I agree, wholeheartedly. I was about to say, “How about a personal phone call?” and then, I notice that your previous blog discusses phone use. UGH.
    I like hearing people’s voices. And guess what? I like answering back!
    When I get requests for renewals from, say, Save the Redwoods League, and the mailer is packed with glossy paper, it makes my stomach feel just a bit ooozy…
    Thanks for stopping by my sadly neglected blog. I’ll be back soon!

    • fransiweinstein #
      November 16, 2012

      I like your blog and look forward to your return. Thank you for visiting mine. Glad you feel the way I do about extravagant mailings when you’re asking for money.

      • November 16, 2012

        My pleasure.
        Off the cuff, I ask, “What are they thinking?” Of course, the answer is obvious – they’re NOT thinking at all!!

      • fransiweinstein #
        November 16, 2012

        Sadly, they’re not.

  7. November 19, 2012

    With a degree in marketing, and barely any hands on experience in the field, I know what you say is truth about non-profits. I have been working with non-profits for over 15 years and its a terrible waste of money and I think even offensive to the patron (or possible patrons) when they receive mailers that look costly.

    However, as a consumer (and possible patron) even if a plain envelope comes in my mail, I sigh, most of the time. Even worse when I get a phone call. I don’t like being bombarded by requests, especially in these hard times. I feel a colorful 1 page poster/flyer with a web address for possible donation can alleviate some of this wasteful paper usage.

    Anyhoo – I can go on and on with my “amazing” ideas but I’ll end with saying that I stumbled upon you blogs and enjoy both from a fellow blogger’s perspective as well as someone who is always marketing (without pay). Kudos, and I look forward to reading more on a rainy day.

    • fransiweinstein #
      November 19, 2012

      Thanks. And it just surprises me in this case, frankly, because they have access to knowledgeable people. They are high profile and could get good agencies who know what they they’re doing to do pro bono work for them.

    • fransiweinstein #
      November 19, 2012

      Hi. Just realized you’re in Israel. Is everything ok where you are? Praying for all of you.

      • November 19, 2012

        Thanks. Where I am, the area was hit nearby only once on Friday night. It has been quiet in my neighborhood since then, but I can not say the same for my brothers that are west of me, missiles are being sent by gaza all day and night. We have good men protecting us and have good aim with the Iron Dome. May we see a ceasefire soon.

      • fransiweinstein #
        November 19, 2012

        Amen. Stay safe.

      • November 19, 2012

        Thanks so much. I look forward to sharing good news.

      • fransiweinstein #
        November 19, 2012

        I’ll be here waiting for it.

  8. November 20, 2012

    so glad I stumbled across this post just now. I work for a non-profit and am just starting a new role trying to make our direct mail appeals more amazing with a tiny budget 🙂 and I have an editorial meeting about the January appeal in 2 hours!

    I appreciate all you’re saying in this post – I feel the same way about charities spending a lot on DM to people who are unlikely to give. Could you give me some examples of appeals you really liked – and maybe gave to? That would be so helpful for me. Thank you!

    • fransiweinstein #
      November 20, 2012

      Hi there. Thanks for your comment, and for reading my post. There are so many appeals I like, the list would be very long. Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto does a very good job. Their letters are heartfelt, and they send different ones out for different reasons, for different areas where they need help. It’s great because it allows the donor to support the areas of the hospital that are meaningful to them. For me, for instance, it’s the research they do for diabetes, because my mother was diabetic; and, in fact, was treated in this hospital. When I donate, to Mt. Sinai or other not-for-profits, it’s because the cause means something to me. Animals, the homeless, abuse, diseases and arts foundations I have an interest in.

      Which is the case with most people. So make your letters relevant, to the point, tell people why you’re writing and what you need. Keep them simple. Make them interesting. Tell them where there money will go, and what you’ve been able to achieve so far. People don’t like to be manipulated or made to feel guilty. Share the hope, not the gloom. Be respectful. Acknowledge these are hard times and make it clear how much you appreciate their help. And above all, when people don’t respond after a couple of mailings take them off the list. Repeated mailings to people who can’t or won’t donate just really pisses them off, and you’ve lost them forever. Rest their names and go back to them in six months or so, and you may have a chance.

      And test. That’s what DM is all about. Test. Learn. Revise accordingly. Test. Learn. etc. etc. etc.

      Good luck. Hope this helps.

      • November 20, 2012

        thank you! Just looking to get all the advice I can =D

      • fransiweinstein #
        November 20, 2012

        Hope it helps. All the best.

  9. November 20, 2012

    For this I prefer much smaller not-for-profits, where they certainly have no choice at all but to send emails and wouldn’t be able to afford such a mailer. That’s just me but those are the types of organizations that someone with such a modest budget as I (and unconventional tastes as well) like to support. I have the same thoughts when our local public radio starts up it’s fund drive and talks about “with a pledge of $200 you get…” $200? ! I’m sorry but that’s just WAY out of my league! 🙂 Nicely expressed here I totally know where you’re coming from!

    • fransiweinstein #
      November 20, 2012

      Thanks. It’s not rocket science, really. You’d think they would be able to figure it out! Guess ‘common sense’ isn’t ‘common’ with everybody 🙂

  10. jalal michael sabbagh. #
    December 16, 2012

    I enjoyed reading your profile.Very interesting.Thank you for following my site.Wishing you happy new year,health and happiness.jalal

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 16, 2012

      Thank you very much. I am happy to have been introduced to your blog and look forward to reading it on an ongoing basis. I wish you all the best as well.

  11. strawberryquicksand #
    December 19, 2012

    I feel the same way about Greenpeace. They came knocking on
    my door to get me to donate money. I was feeling generous so
    donated $70 as I like the work they do. However, I was entirely
    turned off them for LIFE because I figured they spent well over
    that $70 trying to get me to give them another $70. Countless phone
    calls, letters in the mail, etc, really began to piss me off. Take
    it for what it was – a one-off donation – and stop bothering

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 19, 2012

      They all need our help and I understand that. But they have to be strategic about how they go about getting it. There arr some costs associated. But we want our money, or as much of it as possible, to go to the cause not their admin costs.

      • strawberryquicksand #
        December 19, 2012

        Exactly!!!!!!!! I felt my money wasn’t doing what I had intended it to.

  12. December 30, 2012

    There is an endless queue of good causes needing our money. Museums, unfortunately, have to be treated in the same way that ROM treats caterers. They just go on the list for consideration for the time when we have any spare cash after our decisions on giving to the really needy.

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 30, 2012

      I see your point and don’t disagree. On the other hand the ‘arts’ give a city its soul. What frustrated me was not that they needed, and asked, for money. It was that it ‘looked’ like they didn’t need it; or that they’re not careful about how they spend the money. The package I received may, in facf, have cost them nothing. It just gave the wrong signal. And if they did pay for it, it was a bad move. They just wanted me to renew my ‘membership’. They already had my ’emotional’ support. They didn’t have to go to those ‘expensive’ lengths. It was inappropriate. Misguided.

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